The town’s tagline is “Tbilisi Loves You.” These words are scrawled in a festive font at the airport, on the sides of taxis and in graffiti on buildings. The slogan rings true, because I’ve never met a more welcoming city than the quirky capital of Georgia — the country, not the state.
The flavors and customs find influences from Turkey to the south and Russia to the north. The place is at once both Asia and Europe, Middle Eastern and … well, medieval in some cases.
If you love Prague or New Orleans, this place will quickly steal your heart with its ramshackle style, historic buildings and cobblestone thoroughfares. The affordable wines and rich, decadent desserts are ample reason to raise a glass or two and engage the locals in after-dinner banter.
I visited both of these restaurant/bars multiple times during the four days I spent in Tbilisi, and each experience was better than the last.
The wine list here features bio-dynamic Georgian labels. The food menu pairs perfectly, with items like organic, pasture-raised lamb shank, flown in weekly from New Zealand and grilled to perfection. The décor is lovely with a mix of rustic blonde wood accents, stocked wine racks and a metal staircase spiraling up just inside the front door. Dine alfresco — the view of tourists rounding the popular Shardeni Corner offers exceptional people-watching. Your seats are giant, comfy couches (with blankets for chillier nights) flanking massive, rough wooden tables.
DETAILS: Bambis Rigi 12 (Shardeni corner); 011-995-593-735083; www.restorganique.com.
We came upon this cafe by happy accident, just after midnight. We were seeking dessert and one final glass of wine prior to bed. It’s a perfect spot for both. You have to wander between tall black gates, then down cobblestone stairs to this courtyard cafe, where we scarfed an incredible plate of caramel pancakes and enjoyed an entire bottle of reasonably priced red Georgian wine.
The place is hyper-local. If you visit, expect to be surrounded by young professionals and college students, also eager for the great desserts and selections from the affordable wine list.
Inside is just as charming, with a funky, bohemian menagerie of furnishings. We were so smitten with Moulin Electrique that we ventured back for lunch and a beer the next afternoon. It’s just as welcoming in the daylight, when small sandwiches and chai lattes also make the menu.
DETAILS: 28 Leselidze St.; 011-995-551-722323; www.facebook.com/pages/Moulin-Electrique/182597498464884.